COLUMN: Highway 99 commuter delays to continue

COLUMN: Highway 99 commuter delays to continue

Bridge rethink not good news for Surrey, Delta commuters

The Deas Island bridge replacement project has been all but cancelled by the new NDP government.

While officially the government says the project will undergo an extensive technical review, it is unlikely it will proceed in a form that is anything close to what was planned by the BC Liberals.

The 10-lane bridge, with space allotted for buses and HOV traffic and eventually rapid-transit lanes, never had support from Greater Vancouver mayors – other than Delta Mayor Lois Jackson. The opposition was led by Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie who, true to the form adopted by mayors whose communities have rapid transit, is steadfastly opposed to significant transportation improvements that benefit other communities.

Jackson of course knows firsthand the challenges faced by Delta drivers. The Alex Fraser Bridge has been jammed daily with traffic for many years, and the problem got worse when the Port Mann reopened as a toll bridge in 2012. The tolls finally came off on Sept. 1.

The Massey Tunnel under Deas Island has been jammed for decades.The second-oldest Lower Mainland Fraser River crossing, it opened in 1959, 22 years after the Pattullo Bridge.

It has been inadequate for the traffic volumes since the 1970s. The province changed the rush-hour operations that decade so that there would be three lanes into Richmond in the morning and three lanes into Delta in the evenings.

The extension of Highway 17 as part of the South Perimeter Road brought more traffic into that part of Delta, although the new highway did lead to additional lanes on Highway 99 and an HOV lane that is likely the most effective of any in B.C.

Delta’s population has grown over the years, but in South Delta, growth has been more modest. The increased traffic through the tunnel each year is likely due more to growth in Surrey, and particularly South Surrey and parts of Newton.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the project needs “social licence” to proceed. This, of course, is a vague term that means whatever the person uttering it wants it to mean. No project will ever receive universal support, and in B.C. in particular, there are often as many people opposed to any given project as there are in favour.

Trevena said the $66 million spent on the project thus far is not wasted money. The cleared approaches can be used for whatever is eventually built.

For those who use the tunnel on a regular basis, the delay is probably not surprising – but it is frustrating. While transit service through the tunnel is much better than on either the Alex Fraser or Port Mann, not everyone can use transit.

The new bridge was set to open by 2022. It is likely that any replacement project will be delayed by at least two years, and possibly longer, depending on what the NDP government decides are its transportation priorities.

The only good news for Delta drivers in the short term is that construction of an overpass at Highway 91 and 72 Avenue is proceeding, and the Alex Fraser Bridge will soon get an additional counterflow traffic lane.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.